Rational Action, Freedom, and Choice
by E.J. Lowe
Abstract—Is a naturalistic account of rational human action possible? Obviously, we can’t answer this question without being told what the questioner means by a ‘naturalistic account’ of some phenomenon. For most philosophers, however, ‘naturalistic’ just means ‘physicalistic’. For many of these philosophers, a naturalistic account of rational human action would be one which represented human actions as being wholly physical events with wholly physical causes and the rationality of an action could only have something to do with how and by what it was caused. For example, it might be held that every human action is simply a bodily movement of some kind and that such an action qualifies as rational just in case it was caused by the onsets of certain psychological states of the agent whose contents represented such an action as serving the agent’s interests in the circumstances in which the agent found himself. For such an account to qualify as wholly naturalistic in the sense now under consideration, it would have to incorporate a physicalistic account of mental representation and of an agent’s interests. Perhaps such an account of mental representation could be provided in causal or teleofunctional terms and perhaps such an account of an agent’s interests could be provided in terms of evolutionary adaptation. I shall not, however, be pursuing questions about mental representation any further in the present paper, because I think that a physicalist account of rational human action along the lines just proposed inevitably falls at an earlier hurdle, in virtue of endeavouring to explain the occurence of such actions in wholly causal terms.
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